Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, told Ars Technica in an interview published Wednesday that the company expects to launch a national security payload aboard the ULA-built Vulcan rocket in 2022.
He said ULA plans to perform certification flights in 2021 under the launch services agreement with the U.S. Air Force.
“And we intend to fly an actual customer on that flight, commercial customers, and we’re talking to them now,” he noted.
“And then we’ll be certified a few months later and ready to fly national security space missions.”
ULA is one of the three companies the service branch selected in October to build rocket prototypes in support of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
Bruno noted that he considers propulsion and software as the two challenging aspects in rocket-development programs like the Vulcan Centaur platform.
He discussed upgrade work on the Centaur upper stage and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 engine.
“The very first Centaur we fly will be called Centaur 5. It will already have twice the propellant that Centaur 3 has,” he said.
“Then, what we will do in the second upgrade to Centaur is upgrade the thrust in the RL10 engines and make it even longer, to stretch the propellant tanks to give it even that much more energy.”